Sensitivity to reward: implications for overeating and overweight

Appetite. 2004 Apr;42(2):131-8. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2003.07.004.


Sensitivity to reward (STR)-a personality trait firmly rooted in the neurobiology of the mesolimbic dopamine system-has been strongly implicated in the risk for addiction. This construct describes the ability to derive pleasure or reward from natural reinforcers like food, and from pharmacologic rewards like addictive drugs. Recently experts in the field of addiction research have acknowledged that psychomotor stimulant drugs are no longer at the heart of all addictions, and that brain circuits can also be deranged with natural rewards like food. The present study tested a model in which STR was expected to relate positively to overeating, which in turn would be associated with higher body weight in woman aged 25-45 years. As predicted, STR was correlated positively with measures of emotional overeating. Also, overweight woman were significantly more sensitive to reward than those of normal weight. Interestingly, however, the obese woman (Body Mass Index>30) were more anhedonic than the overweight woman (Body Mass Index>25<30). These findings are discussed in the context of neuroadaptations to overactivity of brain reward circuits. Results also indicate that STR may serve as a risk factor for overeating and overweight, especially in cultures such as ours where palatable, calorically-dense food is plentiful.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Energy Intake / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Reward*
  • Self Stimulation